Young Alumni Achiever Award 2023: Mr. Atal Agarwal

Over the years, IIT Kharagpur has produced some of the brightest and most successful alumni who have made a mark across the globe. One such distinguished alumnus is Atal Agarwal (Dual Degree 2017), who was recently bestowed the Young Alumni Achiever Award 2023.

Awaaz IIT Kharagpur caught up with Atal to understand his journey from being a popular student leader on campus to an enterprising alum bringing change across diverse fields. In this expansive interview, Atal walks down memory lane, shares key learnings and advice for every aspiring KGPian.

Between reminiscing about days past and looking ahead, Atal shared some key nuggets of wisdom for every KGPian hoping to make their mark on the world:

Awards Feel Special Only if Your Alma Mater Gives Them

On getting recognized by IIT Kharagpur, Atal couldn’t hide his grin. As he put it – “Getting an award from your own college touches you at a very different level.” No prize can beat the validation you get from a place that shaped you. So aspire to make KGP proud! 

IIT KGP is Your Playground – Learn From Every Experience

Atal describes his 5 years at IIT Kharagpur as the ‘playground’ where he honed skills and developed risk-taking ability for the ‘real match’ ahead.

During first year, Atal took every opportunity to push his boundaries. He interviewed for different student societies and clubs, despite facing rejection most times. Through this, Atal worked on his communication skills and self-confidence.

In second year, Atal moved to the iconic RK Hall of Residence. He fondly recalls the informal interactions with senior batchmates here, which helped build his perspective. Though Atal did not appreciate some ‘over-enthusiastic’ orientation rituals, he believes bonding between juniors and seniors played a key role in shaping him.

By third year, Atal had found his groove on campus. He joined various student bodies like the Alumni Cell and built strong friendships across batches. Atal also decided to contest the election for Vice-President of the Gymkhana – the highest student body position in IITKGP.

After a fiercely fought campaign between two talented candidates, Atal emerged victorious by a margin of over 2000 votes. Becoming Vice President in his final year was a huge honor and responsibility for Atal. But he was determined to deliver his best for the student community.

Real Leaders Know How to Empower Others

As VP, Atal had the mammoth task of representing a 15,000-strong student community. This role pushed him to sharpen skills like public speaking, team management, creativity and problem-solving on a daily basis.

What allowed Atal to achieve so much as VP?

On asking Atal about his achievements during the momentous tenure, he responds with an interesting insight – “A good leader is one who identifies and empowers other leaders.”

Success doesn’t have to be a solo sport – build a tribe of changemakers. 

Another remarkable initiative during Atal’s tenure was the formation of Students’ Amber – a support group for the LGBTQ+ community. When some students approached him about issues faced on campus, Atal recognized the need for a formal society, despite resistance from certain quarters. Along with guiding the initial groundwork, he entrusted leadership to a committed student Anahita for steering Amber. Nearly a decade later, Amber continues to be a safe space for students.

Atal’s ability to spot sparks and kindle them into flames shone through his term as VP. Enabling peers to create platforms aligned with their passion remains one of his biggest learnings from the experience.

Atal reveals that his biggest accomplishment as VP was to spot passionate students and provide them platforms to drive initiatives they cared about. From revamping existing bodies like the Alumni Cell to pioneering new entities like Students’ International Relations Cell, Atal enabled talented classmates to take ownership and lead.

It’s Not About Having One Dream Job – Explore New Avenues!

As graduation approached in 2017, Atal firmly knew a conventional campus placement was not the path for him. The exposure at KGP had sparked entrepreneurial aspirations in him. 

After convocating with exemplary grades, Atal headed to the US to pursue higher studies at UC Santa Barbara. He chose the university’s Technology Management Program to build business acumen and tech skills. 

During Masters, Atal also got opportunities to intern with UCSB alumni-founded startups in Santa Barbara. This further fueled his passion for starting up. Along with a classmate, Atal built MoreSolar, a solar plan cleaning device company. They even won $12,500 in a business plan competition!

However, Atal soon realized the challenges of scaling a startup sustainably. He took up a full-time role with a healthcare startup after graduation. Here Atal leveraged his technical expertise to build solutions enhancing access to healthcare information. 

When COVID-19 hit, Atal spearheaded development of a platform providing users information on testing locations. Integrated by Google and Apple, this solution proved invaluable – facilitating over 10 million searches at the peak of the pandemic. 

Since 2021, Atal has focused on issues like mental health, emotional wellness and developing healthy habits. He is pondering several ideas to make a difference in this space.

Throughout his career, Atal has chosen work aligned with creating social impact. Instead of having one dream job, he suggests being open to new avenues. 

Since college, Atal has switched paths from entrepreneurship to healthcare and now mental health. But there’s a common thread – following his passion to make an impact. Don’t stick to the “one job” mindset – skills are transferable!

Philosophies from an Eclectic Life

Beyond professional pursuits, Atal has cultivated varied interests – from endurance sports to spirituality. He credits his alma mater for enabling exposure to diverse perspectives early on.

During college, Atal got opportunities to build meaningful connections with alumni older by decades. He believes this helped him develop maturity and wisdom beyond his years.

Over the years, Atal was also fortunate to experience wealth by living for extended periods in an affluent suburb like Hawaii.

However, Atal shares this exposure to a life of luxury made him realize happiness stems from within. No external achievement or possession can fill the vacuum inside completely.

An important anchor in Atal’s life is physical fitness. From almost drowning in a lake once, he was driven not just to learn swimming but also to conquer tough races like the Ironman Triathlons, which includes 140.6 miles of athletics. 

Atal finds immense positivity and focus by pushing his body to extremes. He believes physical strength provides resilience in facing life’s challenges.

At his core, Atal is a spiritual seeker. He stresses being true to your inner voice and finding purpose in alignment with your values.

Nuggets of Wisdom for Budding KGPians

Atal insists the friends you make and bonds you form during your KGP days will enrich your life for decades after. So make time for those chedis, tikka adda sessions and hall bonding!

College offers opportunities and freedom that may be scarce later in corporate lives. So maximize your time on campus – work hard in academics but also step out of your comfort zone, build your interests, and create opportunities for peers.

In halls or societies, form genuine connections that go beyond just hi-bye friends. The KGP network will become your strongest support system for decades after.

Whether it’s contests or entrepreneurship, keep challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid of occasional failures – you gain invaluable skills from them. Use campus incubation cells to experiment. 

Atal quotes his favorite motto – “Success is within You.”

External fame or wealth can be ephemeral. True joy and fulfillment come from living your purpose. Believe in yourself and courageously walk your own path.

The final word from Atal – appreciate the privilege of being a KGPian and make these years count. With passion and self-belief, you are limited only by the boundaries of your imagination!

We’ll wrap up by quoting Atal’s advice – pursue what excites YOU, empower others, and stay true to yourself. KGPians, go out there and make it count!

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